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The Travelin’ Man goes to Brooklyn-part II

15
Apr
Frank Galarza v Guillermo Ibarra

Photo by Elsa/Golden Boy Promotions via Getty Images

 

 

Please click here for part one

 

Friday, April 10 (continued): After the curtain came down on this night of fights at Brooklyn’s Aviator Sports Complex, promoter Lou DiBella was a happy man – and he had every right to be. The local fighters on this 10-bout card went 9-0-1 and the trio of Brooklyn-based attractions that appeared on “ShoBox: The New Generation” provided plenty of entertainment for the energized crowd, for those who watched on Showtime and at least one of the punch-counters charged with tabulating their work.

Looking at the bout sheet beforehand, I figured Aris and I was in for a short work night. Based on what I had observed in my pre-fight research, I believed the bout between super middleweights Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Alan Campa would go the full eight rounds because of the former’s below-average KO percentage (10 knockouts in 28 fights when one counts his 24 “World Series of Boxing” bouts) and the latter’s volume and durability, while I believed would score his 10th consecutive knockout at the expense of Aaron Coley, a slick southpaw who built a 9-0-1 (6) record on woeful opposition (at least in terms of record). As for the main event between junior middleweights Frank Galarza of Brooklyn and Sheldon Moore of Belgium, I had very little to go on because I couldn’t find any complete footage of Moore. But given the circumstances – a local knockout artist fighting on TV before an energized local crowd – I foresaw a spectacular stoppage for Galarza.

While I correctly guessed the winners of all three bouts (and the brevity of our work night – 15 out of a possible 24 rounds), the manner by which the two Eastern Europeans won was surprising to me – Derevyanchenko by fourth round TKO and Khytrov winning on points over eight. Going in, I viewed Derevyanchenko as a cerebral fighter who unleashed only after surveying his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses while Khytrov was a relentless offensive buzz-saw who ripped opponents to shreds with waves of unpredictably sequenced combinations. As for the opponents, I perceived Campa as a durable volume puncher capable of inflicting terrific damage once properly warmed up, while I believed Coley was a southpaw cutie attempting a massive leap in competition. How massive? Coley’s last five opponents had a combined record of 21-47-10 (a lowly .269 winning percentage) and nine of his 10 opponents had come into their fight with Coley off either a loss or a draw. Not only that, he was emerging from a six-month layoff to face a man with a 500-fight amateur resume as well as a perfect knockout percentage in the pros. Coley was tackling quite the daunting assignment, to say the least.

As I’ve long said, boxing is the greatest sport of all because no matter how deeply one breaks down fights, the ultimate result literally rests in the four hands of the combatants. Over time, I’ve learned that all fighters have habits that can be identified and assessed to the point in which one can make an educated guess on the final result and end up being correct most of the time. Over the last nine years, my pre-fight analyses guessed the winner 81% of the time, which is pretty good when one considers the elevated level of most premium-cable and pay-per-view bouts.

But it’s that other 19% that makes boxing the sport and the spectacle it is, that wild-card element that legendary writer and announcer Larry Merchant called “the theater of the unexpected.” Many of boxing’s seminal moments were earth-shaking shockers that defied every rule of logic but whose final results were astonishingly real. Yes, that was a semi-conscious Mike Tyson fumbling for his mouthpiece as referee Octavio Meyran tolled the final seconds of his heavyweight championship reign against James “Buster” Douglas. Yes, that was Randy Turpin winning a lopsided decision over Sugar Ray Robinson, who came into their middleweight championship fight on a 91-fight unbeaten streak. Yes, that was Roberto Duran, who, to that point, was considered the quintessential fire-breathing warrior, quitting against Sugar Ray Leonard.

Even when the expected winners win, as was the case here, the ring can reveal previously unseen nuances. In Derevyanchenko’s case, it was his killer instinct. Once he hurt Campa, he didn’t hesitate to step forward and finish the job. After scoring his first knockdown late in round two – a knockdown that came too late in the round for a proper follow up – the Ukrainian spent the entire third round softening up his antagonist for the kill to come: In round three, Derevyanchenko was 36 of 76 overall (47%), including 29 of 56 in power shots (52%) while Campa could only muster 38 punches and six connects. Derevyanchenko cashed in on his diligence in the fourth by scoring a second knockdown, then, after Campa arose, pummeling him enough to induce a stoppage from referee Ricky Gonzalez.

The final numbers reflected Derevyanchenko’s dominance; he out-landed Campa 75-21 overall, 23-6 jabs and 52-15 power and was the markedly more accurate fighter (35%-17% overall, 25%-7% jabs, 43%-33% power). Derevyancheko’s power surge overshadowed the effectiveness of his jab (26.8 thrown/6.7 connects per round, well above the super middleweight averages of 23.5 thrown/5.1 connects). This particularly impressed me because Campa was the longer and rangier fighter. Another aspect of Derevyancheko’s game that caught my notice was how well he negated Campa’s jab. All in all, it was a terrific – but brief – night at the office for Derevyanchenko.

The additional element in Khytrov’s game that caught my attention was his ability to adjust to Coley’s tactics and continue to execute those tactics round after round. Khytrov’s surname is pronounced “Heatrov” and through his first eight fights, he certainly delivered plenty of heat to his opponents. In five previous CompuBox-tracked fights, Khytrov combined high volume (71.3 per round) with accuracy (42% overall, 35% jabs, 48% power) while taking little fire himself (21% overall, 14% jabs, 26% power). In January, I saw Khytrov scorch Maurice Louishomme – a late sub for Coley – in three rounds and the numbers were massive: 74.3 punches per round, connect gaps of 83-16 overall and 51-11 power and accuracy bulges of 52%-13% overall, 51%-6% jabs and 53%-26% power. Then during his eight-round stoppage of Jorge Melendez less than two months later, Khytrov showed he could maintain his dynamism over a long fight. There he averaged 91.6 punches per round, out-landed Melendez 283-85 overall, 113-36 jabs and 170-49 power and created percentage gaps of 43%-21% overall, 34%-17% jabs and 51%-25% power. Better yet, another aspect of his game – the jab – was a big part of that dominance as he averaged 45.6 attempts and 15.6 connects per round, the latter figure tripling the middleweight average of 5.2. But for me, the question coming in was whether he could do all that again if Coley managed to drag the fight into the later rounds.

Based on these numbers, I didn’t believe that Coley’s southpaw wiles would hold up long under Khytrov’s assault. His bouts with Mike Alexander (TKO 3) and Loren Myers (KO 5) proved he had good boxing skills and a healthy dose of ring savvy but neither opponent was talented enough to offer an accurate gauge as to how he would handle someone of Khytrov’s caliber.

As it turned out, he handled the situation pretty darn well.

Louishomme tried to utilize movement to slow down Khytrov’s work rate and while the 37-year-old Coloradan failed to do so, Coley, a more settled campaigner, succeeded to a point. Although the southpaw Coley continually moved into Khytrov’s right-handed power instead of circling to his right, as most left-handers would, he managed to limit the Ukrainian’s vaunted work rate to 50 punches in round one while also out-landing him 9-7 in total punches. It would prove to be the only time Coley led in the overall stats but the scientific principles he displayed may well be used by higher caliber opponents in the future – at least until Khytrov proves he can counteract those tactics with his trademark explosiveness.

As one would expect from a veteran of ring combat like Khytrov, he countered Coley’s strategy. He pounded Coley’s body with both hands while also ratcheting up his work rate. After throwing 53 punches in round three, Khytrov averaged 83 punches per round over the next five rounds and out-landed Coley 120-34 overall and 101-29 power en route to the points victory (78-74, 79-73 twice). While Khytrov dominated the raw numbers (153-72 overall, 124-50 power), it is worthy to note that while Coley was out-done 61-21 in the final three rounds in terms of power punches, Coley landed 42%, 50% and 58% of his hooks, crosses, uppercuts and body shots in those rounds, lifting his power percentage to a decent 31% by the end of the fight. Was this the result of Khytrov relaxing his guard in pursuit of the late-round KO or was this a byproduct of mental fatigue in the late rounds? Should Khytrov be pushed to the later rounds in subsequent fights against better foes, his defensive numbers should be watched closely to determine if what happened against Coley was a one-time incident or the beginnings of a trend. Even so, I remain impressed by what I see in Khytrov; he handled a difficult style with aplomb and, for the second straight fight, showed offensive strength in the later rounds.

Of all the performances on the card, the sensational third-round knockout turned in by Galarza was the most impressive, not just because of the final result but also because of how dramatically he changed gears. In round one, Moore smartly fired his effective jab to create a small statistical lead (9-7 overall, 6-2 jabs) as well as create a definitive strategic narrative. But in round two, Galarza picked up his work rate considerably (from 63 to 85 punches) and began shooting combinations to the body that set up subsequent bombs to the head. The dramatic shift in the fight’s tenor was not caused by a decline in Moore’s performance (he was 9 of 54 in round one and 8 of 53 in round two) but an elevation in Galarza’s (seven connects in the first, 27 in the second). His second-round energy burst set the stage for the explosion that occurred in round three; a massive hook to the jaw sent Moore skittering sideways and a right to the belly drove him to the floor, where he would stay for referee Benjy Esteves Jr.’s entire 10-count.

Galarza is nicknamed “The Brooklyn Rocky” and his scintillating knockout ignited ear-splitting roars of rapture from his hometown faithful. His is the classic story of redemption through boxing as he overcame a terribly troubled family life and the sins of the street to create a successful life inside the ring. The bitter memories of his life outside the ring clearly fuel him inside the ropes and that combination will surely continue to serve him well as he works his way up the ranks.

After scarfing down two slices of sausage pizza, Aris and I secured a ride back to the hotel, thanks to graphics guru Joe Jacovino. In the hotel’s business center, despite some initial issues with the reservation code, I was able to check into my flight, move up from row 16 to row nine and print out my boarding pass. As usual, it took me quite a while to wind down from working the live show – even after all these years, it still gets my blood pumping – and, as a result, I didn’t turn out the lights until nearly 3 a.m.

 

Saturday, April 11: Unlike the previous night, my slumber was short (four-and-a-half hours) and fitful. Perhaps I was champing at the bit to get as much work done as possible before the noon check-out as well as the start of my 3:30 p.m. flight from JFK to Pittsburgh. If all went well, I’d be home in time to watch a lot of the night’s boxing action.

After completing my morning routines, I opened the curtain and saw bright sunshine flowing into the room. After nearly a week of thunderstorms back home and overcast skies in the Big Apple on Thursday and Friday, this was a most welcome – and uplifting – sight. I suppose in this era of victimization, I would be labeled a mild sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but, to me, I just hate cold, clammy weather and feel better when it’s not around.

My time at the laptop proved extremely productive – I polished off the first draft of Part I and wrote virtually all of the words you are reading today. Aiming to maximize my output while also catching the noon shuttle to JFK, I stopped writing at 11:47, packed my stuff by 11:50 and checked out at 11:53. I was the first to board the bus and I soon was joined by a half-dozen pilots, who spent much of the 20-minute trip talking shop. As the only “civilian” of the group, I minded my own business, content to absorb the back-and-forth.

One subject that briefly was touched on was unruly passengers. One of the pilots recounted a tale in which a father was trying to quiet his crying baby and a nearby passenger – fed up with the racket – wheeled around and yelled, “Could you just drop your f*****g baby on its f*****g head, so it would shut the f**k up?”

“Needless to say, the father didn’t react well to this,” the pilot said and the subsequent fight had to be broken up.

I’ll be the first to admit that crying babies on an airplane is one of my biggest traveling peeves but I also realize that the parents want to quiet their upset children just as much – if not more – than anyone. Babies cry – that’s a fact of life – and it doesn’t make any sense for anyone to escalate tensions by lashing out. When it happens on my flights, I just simply lower my head, concentrate harder on the book I’m reading and hope I can zone out my surroundings. It doesn’t always work but it’s better than picking a fight I know I won’t win.

The Pre-Check line, even at a monstrously busy airport like JFK, was blissfully short and I zoomed through security in less than three minutes. The walk from the checkpoint to the gate took three times as long but once I settled into my seat, the excellent creative flow that marked the morning hours continued. My work finished, I figured I had earned a nice lunch break.

On my way to the gate, I remembered that I had passed a Brooklyn Deli outlet and kept that in mind when I finished my pressing tasks. Once I returned, I purchased a Reuben sandwich, a small bag of chips and a diet soda – not the most nutritious meal but one that certainly satisfied my momentary needs.

This 3:30 p.m. JFK-to-Pittsburgh flight was unusual in that the aircraft was a little less than half-full. I was the only person assigned to row nine while there was one passenger in rows eight and 10. There were so many people in the back half of the plane that several travelers had to be moved toward the front so the plane would achieve proper balance.

One humorous incident occurred during the final safety instructions: The flight attendant said the pilot’s name was “Raven Cromwell” and the co-pilot’s was “Max Power.”

“Did I hear that right?” I asked the guy across the aisle as I reached into my bag for pen and paper. “That’s got to be fake but if it’s not, those are the two coolest names I’ve ever heard for a flight crew.”

“They’re probably fake,” he said. “I overheard the flight attendant telling someone in first class that she liked to make up names for the crew.” Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

The flight departed 15 minutes late but landed 10 minutes early and, thanks to gusty winds in New York and Pittsburgh, the ascent and descent was quite bumpy.

When I reached the tram that would take me to the “unsecured” part of the airport, I noticed I was the only person aboard my particular compartment. The college me would have been tempted to zigzag between the poles like show dogs do during competition but the 50-year-old me wisely stayed put and kept that scenario within the confines of my imagination.

Once I stepped outdoors, I knew I was in for a wonderful drive – 62 degrees and brilliantly sunny. I don’t know about you but if you give me a sun-drenched mid-spring day, a car with cruise control, a giant diet soda, a wide-open interstate highway and a classic rock FM station with booming reception, I will be one happy dude. That was what the next two-and-a-half hours were like, and by the time I pulled into my driveway shortly before 8 p.m. I was ready to enjoy the rest of the evening. After watching (and recording) the “Premier Champions Boxing” card on NBC and the three-fight after-show on NBC Sports Network, I set the Panasonic DVD recorder (the new workhorse device now that the Pioneer is in the repair shop) for the UniMas show and went to bed. As is always the case, plenty of work will be waiting for me.

As much as I enjoyed working the show in Brooklyn, I can hardly wait for my next assignment – Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y.

Until then, happy trails!

*

 

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 13 writing awards, including 10 in the last five years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or email the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.

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